Tag Archives: recall

Supreme Court declines to reopen Walker campaign case

The U.S. Supreme Court will not take up an appeal on the John Doe 2 case, permanently ending a probe into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign against a recall.

The high court declined to reopen the John Doe 2 investigation, leaving in place the state supreme court’s decision that halted the John Doe probe into whether the Republican governor illegally coordinated with outside interest groups, specifically the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth. The state court’s decision was considered highly partisan.

In the probe, prosecutors were looking into whether Walker’s campaign coordinated with conservative groups on campaign ads in 2012. The governor was fighting off a recall effort after he signed his bill stripping public unions of collective bargaining rights.

The Wisconsin Justice Initiative on Oct. 3 said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision highlights a need to reform state judicial campaign laws.

“This unfortunate decision doesn’t erase the perception that money corrupted the deliberative process of the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” WJI executive director Gretchen Schuldt said. “That court’s majority took too much in campaign funds from too many players with interests in the case. The money raises suspicions that will never go away.”

The state should bar judges from participating in cases that include or might affect campaign donors, according to WJI. Also, judges should be blocked from participating in cases involving groups or individuals who have provided endorsements in the judges’ races.

“The integrity of the state supreme court has rightly been called into question,” Schuldt said. “The court itself does not want to restore it and the U.S. Supreme Court does not want to restore it. It is up to Wisconsin voters to insist that their legislators enact laws that will ensure the state supreme court is the pride of Wisconsin, not the huge embarrassment it is now.”

Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm issue a joint statement after learning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision: “We are disappointed by today’s Supreme Court order denying our Petition for Certiorari. The state supreme court decision, left intact by today’s order, prohibits Wisconsin citizens from enacting laws requiring the full disclosure of disguised contributions to a candidate, i.e., monies expended by third parties at the direction of a candidate for the benefit of that candidate’s election. We are proud to have taken this fight as far as the law would allow and we look forward to the day when Wisconsin adopts a more enlightened view of the need for transparency in campaign finance.”

Wisconsin Club for Growth president Eric O’Keefe, according to Wisconsin Public Radio, said, “From its inception, this proceeding was a politically motivated attack and a criminal investigation in search of a theory.”

The high court announced the decision without explanation on Oct. 3, the court’s first day of the fall term. The order said, “The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.


Prosecutors ask US Supreme Court to reinstate Walker probe

Prosecutors looking to revive an investigation into Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate a state decision halting the probe.

A group of prosecutors led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm opened an investigation in 2012 into whether Walker’s campaign coordinated with Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups on advertising during the recall without reporting the groups’ contributions. They ran the probe as a John Doe investigation, a procedure similar to a grand jury where information can be kept secret.

The groups filed a lawsuit challenging the probe. Conservative-leaning justices who control the Wisconsin Supreme Court halted it last summer. They ruled that the groups and the campaign coordinated on issue advocacy, a political term for ads that don’t expressly call for a candidate’s election or defeat. Such coordination amounts to free speech and isn’t subject to disclosure requirements, the court ruled, shredding the prosecutors’ basis for the investigation.

Chisholm, Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne — all Democrats — filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in late April asking it to take the case and nullify the state court’s ruling.

“The decision permits unlimited candidate-controlled expenditures by … organizations funded with anonymous dollars; it is the very undoing of campaign disclosure requirements.”

They argued that the case offers the court an unprecedented opportunity to decide how broadly free speech rights protect campaign coordination with outside groups. They also maintained they never received a fair hearing before the state Supreme Court, insisting that Justices David Prosser and Michael Gableman should have recused themselves because some of the groups under investigation aided their campaigns.

Prosser wrote days after the ruling that some targets of the investigation “engaged in expenditures that … were very valuable to my campaign.” But he said he didn’t need to step out of the case, noting the spending took place four years previous. Gableman has never explained why he remained on the case.

The prosecutors also asserted that some of the groups launched a media campaign to discredit the investigation as a political witch hunt, which improperly influenced the conservative justices. The prosecutors noted in the filing that Chisholm tried to hand the investigation off to then-Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, but Van Hollen refused to take it.

Attorneys for two of the groups who brought the original lawsuit challenging the probe didn’t immediately respond to messages.

The U.S. Supreme Court is under no obligation to take the case.

The court takes up only about 1 percent of the petitions for review it receives each year.



Study: Americans remember presidents that never were

About 71 percent of Americans are fairly certain Alexander Hamilton served as president.

And about 71 percent of Americans are wrong.

Photo: Courtesy Alexander Hamilton — not a president, but 71 percent of those surveyed in a memory study thought he held the nation’s top office.
Photo: Courtesy
Alexander Hamilton — not a president, but 71 percent of those surveyed in a memory study thought he held the nation’s top office.

The “founding father” celebrated in the hit Broadway musical Hamilton was the first secretary of the U.S. Treasury and served as a chief aide to Gen. George Washington. He also founded the New York Post. But he never served as president, contrary to what people told researchers at St. Louis’ Washington University.

“Our studies over the past 40 years show that Americans recall about half the U.S. presidents but the question we explore with this study is whether people know the presidents but are simply unable to access them for recall,” said researcher Henry L. Roediger III. He co-authored with researcher K. Andrew DeSoto a paper recently published in the journal Psychological Science.

Participants were asked to identify past presidents from a list of names that included presidents and non-presidents, including Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and the lesser-known Thomas Moore.

Study participants were asked to rate their certainty on chief executives from zero to 100.

Overall, the rate for recognizing the names of past presidents was 88 percent. Actual leaders Franklin Pierce and Chester Arthur were recognized less than 60 percent of the time yet about 71 percent remembered Hamilton as a president.

People also mistakenly remembered Benjamin Franklin, John Calhoun and Hubert Humphrey as presidents.

The study adds to an emerging line of research — collective memory or historical memory.

“The false recognition data support the theory that false fame can arise from contextual familiarity,” Roediger said. “And our recall studies show that even the most famous person in America may be forgotten in as short a time as 50–75 years.”

Wisconsin GOP leaders to pass law banning John Doe political investigations

Republican leaders say the Wisconsin Legislature will vote next month on a bill prohibiting the use of secret John Doe investigations into political crimes.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald issued a joint statement Friday saying they have agreed to pass the bill in October.

The proposal targets investigations like the ones that looked into Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and its relationship with conservative groups and an earlier probe focusing on Walker’s aides and associates when he was Milwaukee County executive.

Walker was not charged in either investigation, but Republicans have said they were politically motivated. The Wisconsin Supreme Court in July ended the latest probe, saying it was unconstitutional.

Walker’s spokeswoman says he will review the bill should it pass.

Right-to-work hearing today at Capitol, along with protests

Opponents of a Republican push to turn Wisconsin into a right-to-work state planned to converge on the Capitol on Feb. 24 to hold a rally and testify in opposition of the measure on a fast track in the Legislature.

Gov. Scott Walker, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, has said he will sign the bill into law once it clears the Republican-controlled Legislature. Lawmakers made a surprise announcement late last week that they were going to push the bill through in a matter of days, giving union opponents little time to organize against it.

There are 24 other states with a right-to-work law prohibiting companies from reaching labor agreements in which workers have to pay fees to the unions as a condition of employment. Indiana and Michigan were the two most recent states to pass such a law, in 2012.

Supporters say it’s about giving workers the freedom to decide whether to join unions. The state Chamber of Commerce has been one of the most vocal proponents, arguing that passing the law will open Wisconsin up to jobs and investment that now are going elsewhere.

But opponents say that the measure is really about weakening the power of private-sector unions and that passing it will ultimately lead to lower wages for workers.

The issue comes to Wisconsin after Walker in 2011 pushed through a law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, as well as prohibiting the automatic withdrawal of union dues.

Walker didn’t propose right-to-work then, and in a series of statements over the past four years he’s said the issue wasn’t a priority, it wouldn’t come up this session and it was a distraction from his agenda that could lead to protests like those in 2011 that would hurt the state’s economy.

Memories of those massive rallies four years ago, as well as the failed 2012 recall effort against Walker that grew out of them, are still fresh in the minds of union members who are coming together again to take on right-to-work.

“Is labor in solidarity to fight right-to-work?” said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin state AFL-CIO, on Monday. “The answer is a resounding `yes.'”

Still, Neuenfeldt said he had no idea how many people may show up for the Tuesday rally. There is also a public hearing before the Senate Labor Committee on the bill.

Another rally was planned for Wednesday, the day the Senate was expected to begin debate. The Assembly hopes to take it up next week.

Neuenfeldt and other union leaders said they were urging their members to contact state senators and push for them to vote against the bill. Republicans hold an 18-14 majority in the Senate, and Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said he has 17 votes to pass it.

With an even larger 63-36 Republican majority in the Assembly, along with Walker’s support, some union organizers are resigned to defeat.

“I think it’s inevitable,” said Sally Feistel, a United Steelworkers union leader from Menasha.

News analysis | Despite right-wing media smear, Burke and Walker still tied

Three days before Wisconsinites head to the polls to elect their next governor, two final public polls show the race between controversial Gov. Scott Walker and business leader Mary Burke remains a virtual dead heat.

Walker leads by only one point in both polls, well within their margin of error. Both campaigns have acknowledged that their success on Election Day — Tues., Nov. 4 — depends on who turns out to vote.

Public Policy Polling released a survey yesterday that found Walker with a 48–47 lead over Burke. The poll is operated by Democrats and often criticized for favoring that party. But a respected Fordham University study following the 2012 elections showed that PPP was the most accurate pollster in the nation for that year’s races.

Also released yesterday was the final poll from YouGov, which showed Walker leading Burke 42–41. Both polls are consistent with the results of repeated polls over the last two months.

“The final public polls released over the last few days confirm what we’ve known for months — the race between Scott Walker and Mary Burke is all going to come down to turnout,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said today. “Wisconsin voters need to know this race is incredibly close and their vote will make a difference between four more years of Scott Walker’s failed policies or a new direction with Mary Burke.”

Burke is fighting back with new ads addressing a smear campaign by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin Reporter, a right-wing publication with ties to the ultra-conservative Bradley Foundation. The foundation’s leader Michael Grebe is also the chairman of Walker’s reelection campaign.

In the 2012 recall election of Walker, the Bradley Foundation was widely condemned for placing billboards in Milwaukee’s predominantly African-American neighborhood that warned voter fraud is a felony. The billboards were seen as part of a coordinated right-wing effort to legitimize the unproven myth that voter fraud is an actual problem.

The Wisconsin Reporter’s smear piece on Burke quoted three GOP operatives who once worked for Trek Bicycle Corp., owned by Mary Burke’s Family. All three said she was fired in 1993 as head of Trek’s European operations.

Denounced as patently false by Mary Burke, current Trek CEO John Burke and others who worked at Trek during those years, the story was nonetheless picked up by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has endorsed Walker in the past and seemed to endorse him again last Sunday in an article that was not tagged as an endorsement. The newspaper used it as one of two top cover stories, placing it in a prominent position above its fold and next to a story about an unlikely poll from Marquette University Law School showing Walker surging ahead by seven points among likely voters.

Today, the Journal Sentinel placed a story about Burke’s campaign firing back against the GOP’s smear campaign on the cover. But the story read like an attempt to reignite the false claims for readers who missed the first smear piece. It made no attempt to update readers on negative information about Burke’s accusers that has come to the forefront in the past few days or to speak with former Trek employees who disagree with her critics.

The same pro-Walker Marquette poll headlined by the Journal Sentinel a few days ago had, only a week prior, showed Burke ahead among likely voters; and even the more recent poll showed only one point separating the two candidates among registered voters, although the paper’s editors decided to go with the pro-Walker angle in its headline. That led many Burke supporters to dismiss the most recent Marquette poll as either an outlier or as intentionally manipulated to help its favorite son (even though he failed to graduate) out of a tight spot.

In the Journal Sentinel’s smear piece against Burke, the three bylined reporters spoke only to John Burke to defend his sister, creating the perception that no one else disputed the assertions of the Republican operatives. While the Journal Sentinel article revealed that one of the Republican Burke critics — Gary Ellerman — has posted on Facebook comparisons between President Barack Obama and Hitler, the piece did not mention that he believes Michelle Obama is really a man and that the president is, in his words, a “homo.”

Ellerman, who chairs the Jefferson County Republican Party, quickly deleted his Facebook page after receiving media calls. Ellerman ran as a “fake” Democrat in the 2011 state Senate recall elections.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin has called on Walker to fire Ellerman from his chairmanship.

Trek dismissed Ellerman for incompetence in 2004, giving him a personal axe to grind, as John Burke charged. Another of the Burke detractors also had reason to retaliate: In addition to being a volunteer on Walker’s campaign, he heads one of Trek’s primary competitors — Specialized Bicycle Components.

All three of the Burke critics who were given a splashy, uncritical treatment in the conservative press are staunch Republicans and Walker supporters who have longstanding political involvement with him. That led Burke to accuse Walker of being behind the smear.

Walker famously acknowledged that he’d considered planting fake protesters to incite violence in the demonstrations outside the Capitol in 2010, and there’s video of him bragging to a mega-wealthy donor that his political strategy is based on “divide and conquer.” Such statements demonstrate his willingness to participate in dirty tricks, such as the 11th-hour revelations from Burke’s right-wing former colleagues at Trek.

In the “divide and conquer” video, he suggests that his goal is to make Wisconsin a “right to work” state, a subject he’s been coy about on the campaign trail as he tries to woo moderates and independents.

Six companies in five years

“The fact is, my track record, is I created six companies in less than five years (at Trek).  I grew sales from $3 million to over $50 million and I did all of this before I was 35 years old,” Burke said on the campaign trail yesterday.

John Burke confirmed that his sister left during a corporate restructuring and that the work she did remains a profitable asset to the company today. In fact, far from firing Burke, Trek asked her to come back to the company two years later to head global forecasting.

None of that was mentioned in the Journal Sentinel story, which took her to task over a snowboarding sabatical that she took as if it was a criminal activity. Burke has repeatedly stated that she worked part time creating trade shows during the two years in question, but she acknowledged that she wanted some time off as well. In forcing her on the defensive over such an odd story that occurred more than 20 years ago, the Journal Sentinel succeeded in trivializing her business achievements, especially since the coverage was not accompanied by side-by-side comparisons with Walker’s activities during that period. Those activitiesincluded being disciplined by Marquette University for breaking its campaign rules in his bid for student body president, quitting college and dealing rumors that he got a Marquette student pregnant around the time he left. That last rumor was initially reinforced by comments posted by Daniel Bice, one of the writers bylined on the Journal Sentinel’s  smear piece on Burke. Bice later said he investigated the charges and was convinced they were not true.

The head of Trek’s German operations joined John Burke and others in praising Burke’s performance in developing the company’s European operations. Both said she established a profitable market, complete with supply-chain and marketing operations, from scratch.

“Mary built the foundation of a business in Europe that continues to pay dividends today,” John Burke told the Wisconsin State Journal. “What’s happening here is people are trying to discredit what Mary accomplished. What I’m saying is ‘No, I was there, Mary accomplished an amazing thing.’ ”

John Burke described the media-coordinated, last-minute smear of his sister as “a highly orchestrated move by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign.”

“This is what you get with Scott Walker-style politics,” said Burke campaign spokesman Joe Zepecki. “Convictions, arrests, shady donations, secret email systems. This is what the people of Wisconsin are going to reject next Tuesday.”

Among the many related issues missing from all of the right-wing newspaper attacks on Burke’s credentials is the fact that Walker has no business management experience, has run up a budget deficit despite huge cuts in government spending, failed to create more than 40 percent of the 250,000 jobs he pledged in his 2010 campaign, turned down $4 billion in federal aid to the state and made a shambles of both the Milwaukee County Executive’s office and his flagship job-creation organization — the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Ironically, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contends that WEDC was a smart idea that was terribly managed, and the paper cited the business-experienced Burke saying she would keep the agency but overhaul it as proof that it dosn’t deserve the wrecking ball.

The ‘anti-woman’ card

Burke’s three GOP detractors accused her not only of being fired for incompetence but also of having a difficult “management style,” which is often used as euphemism among misogynists to describe strong, confident women. That characterization, given the lack of high-level women executives in 1993, suggests to many Burke followers that her white male critics didn’t like answering to a young woman with an MBA from Harvard University Business School.

Neither Burke nor her campaign would talk about that hot-potato aspect of the story, illustrating how difficult it is for women to run for public office. If they behave with the same aggression that a male candidate would, they offend men. If they complain about the unequal treatment they’re given due to their gender, then they face backlash for “playing the woman card.”

Numerous anti-Burke comments that Wisconsin Gazette has had to remove from its Facebook page have attacked the candidate for her appearance, while only two commenters out of the more than 30,000 who’ve seen WiG’s supportive Burke posts on Facebook in recent days have slammed Walker over his looks, specifically his large bald spot, which one commenter said is big enough to host a Burke campaign sign.

While no woman candidate wants to play the “woman card,” the “anti-woman card” gets played frequently and sometimes and it can create a backlash of its own. The Republican Party — both nationally and in Wisconsin — is widely accused by progressives for waging what they call a “war on women.” The result has been a wide gender gap among voters.

Walker’s record is as hostile toward women as any governor’s in the nation. He vetoed legislation mandating equal pay for women doing the same jobs as men. He and Assembly Republicans eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides poor women with STD testing and pre-natal care. Wisconsin Republicans have also eliminated many pre-kindergarten programs, making it impossible for many mothers to work.

Perhaps the most draconian measure that Wisconsin Republicans have taken against women is a state law forcing women who want to terminate their pregnancies to undergo medically unnecessary and invasive ultrasounds that involve placing wands in their vaginas and then forcing the women to look at pictures of the fetal cells in their wombs. Virtually all women’s health experts and groups that oppose government interference with personal freedom have condemned the law in the strongest terms possible.

Walker has denied any involvement in the smear campaign against Burke. He even released a TV ad calling himself sympathetic to women on the issue of abortion, despite opposing abortion even in cases of rape and incest and when the mother’s life is in danger.

The question is will voters fall for the desperate anti-Hail Mary pass to save Walker, who’s divided the state perhaps more than any other governor in history while and presiding over the worst job-growth rate of any governor in the region? Or will voters rally on Tuesday against such sordid tactics and give Burke the edge by showing up to vote in a race so razor-thin that every single vote counts.


Appeals court hears arguments in Walker-related probe

Wisconsin prosecutors on Sept. 9 tried to persuade a federal appeals court to let them to resume their investigation of Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election campaign, in a case that touches on broader issues about just what constitutes constitutionally-protected political activity.

In more than 90 minutes of questioning, three judges on a panel at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago didn’t give a clear indication of which way they might be leaning. But two of the three repeatedly broached questions about whether federal judges should intervene in what appeared to be a state matter.

When it comes to federal courts dictating to states about criminal investigations or anything else, Judge Frank Easterbook said, what precedent demands is, “Be modest. Be careful.”

The arguments in a downtown Chicago building took place two months before Walker – a Republican seen as a potential 2016 candidate for president – faces a closely contested re-election against Democrat Mary Burke.

Walker made a national name for himself when he took on public sector unions in 2011. That fight led to the 2012 vote to recall Walker, which he won. The recall battle ultimately led to the legal dispute now in the Chicago court.

No one has been charged in the investigation and prosecutors have said Walker isn’t a target. Republicans have dismissed it as a partisan witch hunt against conservative groups, while Democrats say it has revealed serious questions about possible illegal activity by Walker and his backers.

The case centers on the type of political activity done by the conservative groups during the recall campaign and whether that work required them to follow state laws that bar coordination with candidates, require disclosure of political donations and place limits on what can be collected.

Much of the arguments in the hearing this week focused on the intricacies of Wisconsin’s criminal system.

Easterbrook, who was appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, and Judge Diane Wood – named to the bench by Democrat Bill Clinton – both sounded skeptical about whether a federal court was justified in telling a state how to conduct criminal inquiries.

“I don’t understand why a federal court – at this micro-level – should be brought in,” Wood said.

Prosecutors, who opened the investigation in 2012, want the appeals court to reverse a preliminary decision halting the investigation in May and dismiss the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O’Keefe.

Wood said she was “troubled” about encouraging the notion that anyone unhappy about a state investigation targeting them can simply “come running across the street to a federal court” and ask a U.S. judge to stop it.

A lawyer for the conservative groups said his clients had little other recourse but to seek federal court intervention. He argued that prosecutors were trampling on rights protected by U.S. Constitution.

“The issue is our clients’ right … to be free of retaliation (for expressing) his First Amendment rights,” said attorney Mark DeLaquil.

In a court filing, prosecutors decried the lower-court ruling halting their investigation, saying it gave too much weight to the interests of well-funded, politically minded groups and not enough to the public interest.

On the surface, the composition of the three-judge panel hearing the case, with two Republican and one Democratic appointee – would appear to favor the conservatives. But judges are fiercely independent and their decisions frequently do not line up with the party of the president who appointed them.

The other judge on the panel is William Bauer, who was appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford in 1974.

The judges this week voiced similar reservations about federal court intervention when they heard arguments from a media attorney asking the panel to order a state judge to open now-seal documents in the investigation.

“We have to assume the Wisconsin judiciary knows Wisconsin law,” Easterbrook said. “You are asking us to… override Wisconsin law” about keeping investigative records secret.

Walker says he didn’t solicit mining company money

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is saying that he played no role in soliciting donations from a mining company on behalf of a key conservative group that ran ads supporting him during the 2012 recall attempt and that he didn’t even know the company donated to the group.

While at a Kenosha campaign stop over the weekend, Walker said he was not aware of $700,000 donated by Gogebic Taconite in 2011 and 2012 to Wisconsin Club for Growth, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

When asked if the donations and subsequent legislation last year — which streamlined state mining requirements and paved the way for an iron mine in northern Wisconsin — were part of some pay-to-play scheme, Walker said, “That’s a ridiculous argument.”

Walker said he had long been supportive of easing regulations on mining.

Court documents released last week by a federal appeals court show that prosecutors believe Walker solicited donations for Wisconsin Club for Growth to get around campaign finance limits and disclosure requirements as he fended off the recall attempt.

Aides told Walker to tell donors that they could make unlimited donations to Wisconsin Club for Growth without having the gifts publicly disclosed. Wisconsin Club for Growth then funneled the money to other conservative groups that advertised on Walker’s behalf.

It’s not clear from the documents whether Walker followed the instructions from his team. But the documents say millions of dollars later moved from donors he was set to speak with to Wisconsin Club for Growth, which in turn funded groups backing Walker in the recall election.

The documents are part of a secret investigation into whether Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups during the run-up to the June 2012 recall, which was spurred by anger over Walker’s signature law stripping most public workers of nearly all their union rights. The probe has dogged Walker as he is locked in a dead heat with Democratic Mary Burke in the governor’s race and considers a 2016 presidential run.

At a later Racine stop over the weekend, Walker said he helped solicit contributions to Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011 primarily to help Republican state Senators who faced recalls.

He said he is not raising funds for Wisconsin Club for Growth in the current election. He also said he doesn’t believe he raised funds for the group during his 2010 campaign for governor.

A federal judge in Milwaukee halted the secret probe in May after Wisconsin Club for Growth filed a lawsuit alleging the investigation violated its free speech rights and the prosecutors are liberals out to harass and tarnish conservatives.

The prosecutors have asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to allow them to restart the probe. The court released the documents tied to that appeal in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of media and open government groups.

The documents became briefly available on a federal court website last Friday. Attorneys have been arguing over which ones should be made public, and the records were quickly removed.

Wisconsin Supreme Court to issue rulings on domestic partner registry, Act 10 and voter ID this week

The Wisconsin Supreme Court plans to issue a landmark ruling tomorrow on the constitutionality of Gov. Scott Walker’s law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers. The court said it would also release decisions later in the week on cases challenging the requirement of voters to show photo identification at the polls and the state’s domestic partner registry. But the rulings in those two cases aren’t likely to have as broad of an immediate impact, given ongoing lawsuits in federal court.

The court’s decision on the union law, passed in 2011 and known as Act 10, will mark the end of the line for constitutional challenges to the ban that spurred protests as large as 100,000 people and led to the recall election against Walker and a host of state lawmakers.

The law has already been upheld by a federal appeals court in two separate cases, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court has a majority of conservative justices that previously struck down a case arguing the Legislature violated the open meetings law in the process of passing Act 10.

Attorney Lester Pines, who is representing the Madison teachers union in the challenge, said he hoped the court would find at least some parts of the law are unconstitutional. If it’s upheld, however, Pines said the three years fighting it have given public sector unions time to regroup and figure out how to operate in a world without collective bargaining for anything beyond base wage increases tied to inflation.

The law also bars automatic withdrawals from members’ paychecks and requires annual elections to see if members want their unions to go on representing them.

Madison teachers, along with a Milwaukee public workers union, argued that the law violates workers’ constitutional rights to free assembly and equal protection.

A Dane County judge in September 2012 found major portions of the law to be unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court agreed to take the case, bypassing the state appeals court. One issue pending is whether the earlier ruling applied only to the two unions that brought the lawsuit, or all public-sector unions. The unions claim it applies to all local unions statewide, while Walker’s administration claims it does not.

State Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck said it looks forward to the ruling and resolution of the case; she declined further comment.

Anger over the law led to Walker’s 2012 recall election. The union fight and subsequent recall victory, the first for a governor in U.S. history, helped catapult Walker onto the national stage, putting him in the mix for a potential 2016 presidential bid. He’s running for re-election this year and is expected to face Democrat Mary Burke, a former state Commerce Department secretary and Trek Bicycle Corp. executive. Burke supports collective bargaining, but has not promised to attempt to overturn Act 10 if elected.

Decisions on a pair of cases about voter ID, another GOP initiative, are expected to have a limited impact because a federal court in April struck down Wisconsin’s law as unconstitutional. To reinstate the 2011 law, which has been on hold since 2012, the legal challenges in both state and federal court would have to be defeated. The cases before the Supreme Court were brought separately by the League of Women Voters and the NAACP.

And the effect of Thursday’s domestic registry decision will also be muted given that the state’s 2006 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal court judge in June. That decision has been appealed and oral arguments are scheduled Aug. 26 in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Three years after voters approved the gay marriage ban, then-Gov. Jim Doyle and the then-Democratic controlled Legislature passed the domestic registry law, giving same-sex couples benefits such as hospital visitation rights. That law was challenged by the conservative group Wisconsin Family Action, but remains in effect, so a ruling finding it unconstitutional would put the roughly 2,300 couples on the registry in limbo.

Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, said she was surprised the Supreme Court was issuing a decision given that the same-sex marriage ban is in front of the federal circuit court. If that is struck down, then “we have no case” against the domestic partner registry, she said.

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Judge who halted ‘John Doe’ probe attended Koch-funded junkets

The U.S. district judge who earlier this month halted the “John Doe” criminal probe into spending in the 2011-12 recall elections attended judicial junkets funded by the ultra-conservative Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, according to a report from the Center for Media and Democracy.

The all-expenses paid junkets also received funding from the Lynne and Harry Bradley Foundation, according to the Center for Media and Democracy’s prwatch.org.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa blocked the Doe probe on May 6. Investigators were looking into alleged illegal coordination between nonprofits such as the Wisconsin Club for Growth and Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign, as well as the campaigns of state senators facing a recall vote.

Wisconsin Club for Growth and director Eric O’Keefe asked the court to stop the investigation on the grounds that it violated freedom of speech.

Randa did stop the investigation and ordered the destruction of evidence gathered by prosecutors — an order that’s been put on hold pending an appeals court review.

The Center for Media and Democracy reported that Randa attended judicial seminars put on George Mason University in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012, which were private-funded and all-expenses paid.

“The George Mason University seminars are bankrolled by a long list of right-wing foundations, like Koch, Bradley and the Searle Freedom Trust, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and corporations like BP, ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical,” the center stated. “

The center based its reporting on a review of financial disclosure documents and said no other federal district judges in the state attended the George Mason programs.

The watchdog group noted that the Koch foundation gave $5.45 million in 2012 to the George Mason University Foundation and another $51,000 to the George Mason Law and Economics Center. The Koch network also has contributed funding the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the nonprofit involved in the case Randa ruled on.